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Captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are susceptible to a heart condition known as fibrosing cardiomyopathy. Although the cause of the disease is unknown, the captive gorillas' diet may be a contributing factor. Aframomum melegueta, an herbaceous perennial plant that gorillas in the wild consume with gusto, contains substances with powerful anti-inflammatory properties that may protect gorillas' health.
The ancient Mississippi River paddlefish, Polyodon spathula, has long been thought to use its oversized rostrum for excavation. Recent studies provide an entirely new interpretation for the function of the paddle, that of an electrical antenna for detecting the electric fields of plankton, P. spathula's primary food. Feeding experiments with juvenile fish demonstrate that paddlefish detect and capture individual daphnia when all sensory modalities except the electrosense have been blocked. The paddle provides space for an extravagant array of ampullary electroreceptors that are found in common with elasmobranchs and primitive bony fish. This exquisite electrosensory organ may also influence the migration of paddlefish in an environment replete with dams and other steel structures, sources of unnatural electric signals (corrosion potentials). In the laboratory, paddlefish are sensitive to and avoid metallic obstacles, even in the dark. Electrosensory processing in the brain involves physiological mechanisms for spatial imaging equivalent to planktivory based on passive electrosensitivity.
This overview draws attention to several reasons to encourage the design of new agronomic systems, shifting from conventional open or leaky systems to more closed, regenerative systems: Current systems cause overconsumption of environmental resources, contribute to climate change, rely on increasingly expensive fossil fuel, and result in environmental (e.g., groundwater) contamination. Moreover, the agronomic–urban interface is growing, as are markets for ecologically friendly produce, the need for low-input farming systems in low-income regions, and disenchantment with the subsidization of conventional agriculture. There is reasonable biological and economic evidence to support advocacy for a shift to regenerative systems. Such a shift presents challenges—for example, although higher labor input enhances community well-being and rural social capital, it is costly. It also offers opportunities—for example, to adapt technologies to monitor and minimize wastage. Shifting to semiclosed systems would be accelerated by (a) routine life cycle analysis and costing; (b) calculation of the full costs to society of farm inputs such as pesticides; (c) food labeling and standards that draw attention to energy and other inputs; (d) government grants supporting the transition to semiclosed systems; (e) changing priorities for agronomic research; and (f) greater engagement of urban societies in agriculture through recreation and philanthropy.
Previous estimates of the funding needed to secure a network of habitat conservation areas as defined by conservation planning efforts amount to approximately $5 billion to $8 billion per year over 40 years. We found that US federal and state spending on land conservation—which we use as a surrogate for habitat conservation spending—totaled $32 billion between 1992 and 2001. Moreover, state spending is very uneven geographically, with 80 percent of the investment coming from 20 percent of the states. Most of the federal investment is in short-term land-rental or cost-share programs rather than permanent easements or fee title acquisitions. These results suggest that the federal and state governments are not spending enough to create a network of habitat conservation areas, nor tracking spending or acreage adequately to determine the long-term effectiveness of this habitat conservation investment.
Open-space ballot measures have been one of the most important trends in land conservation over the past decade, with voters authorizing $27.3 billion for open-space conservation between 1996 and 2004. This article validates the strength of the trend—measures pass 77 percent of the time, typically with support from 60 percent of voters. However, it also raises two areas of concern: (1) Geographic coverage is narrower than might be expected, confined to a small proportion of largely bicoastal states and counties; and (2) it is likely that only a small share of the funds raised by open-space ballot measures leads to the conservation of wildlife habitat. I recommend several steps for research and action to maximize the potential of ballot measures to help close the gap between the funding needed to complete a national network of conservation lands and what is currently being spent.
In the Laurentian Great Lakes region, commercial activities involving live fish bait, horticultural and water-garden plants, biological supplies, pets, and live food are the principal pathways for intentional introductions of live aquatic organisms. We sampled species for sale in these trades and found that the risks of new invasions and of spreading known invaders are high. Moreover, most animals were identified by common name only, and even though scientific names were more often applied to plants, consumers cannot be certain what species they are receiving because misidentification is common. Finally, 90 percent of plant orders arrived contaminated with unordered live organisms. The policy goal of US and Canadian national and state or provincial agencies is to reduce the risk of harmful introductions. Our results demonstrate that meeting this goal will require accurate identification of species by vendors, the removal of known and likely invasive species from trade, and reductions in the number of contaminant organisms.
Numerous factors, such as global environmental changes, habitat destruction, introduced species, diseases, and chemical pollution, appear to be contributing to amphibian population declines. Moreover, the life history characteristics and behavior of many amphibian species appear to be placing them in jeopardy. Such behaviors and ecological attributes were molded over evolutionary time under selection pressures that acted on amphibians in a variety of ways. Many biologists who study amphibian population declines, however, have failed to consider some of these evolutionary aspects. Better understanding of amphibian population declines requires that scientists and policymakers consider the ecological processes associated with the declines in light of evolutionary principles such as these: Evolution is limited by historical constraints; not all evolution is adaptive; adaptations are often compromises; evolution can only alter existing variations; and evolution takes time.